01/02/2004 12:00AM

Only one is proven at class and distance

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PHOENIX - The big girls are away, so Sunday's Grade 3 Santa Ysabel at Santa Anita is a chance for some other 3-year-old fillies to elbow their way into the spotlight - and possibly a race against the likes of Halfbridled, Hollywood Story, Victory U. S. A., and Rahy Dolly.

Most of the fillies in the Santa Ysabel are unproven against top-caliber opponents and at the race's 1 1/16-mile distance. The race may well present a wagering opportunity.

Favoritism may fall to Salty Romance, who has been favored in all three of her career starts. Owned by Flying Zee Stable, she has won her last two starts - a maiden race over six furlongs at Hollywood in November and the Delta Princess Stakes at Delta Downs on Dec. 5. In the one-mile Delta Princess, Salty Romance scored by 5 1/4 lengths in a front-running effort that was little more than a paid workout.

"It was a good race to get her to run two turns for the first time," said trainer Patrick Biancone. "She just galloped."

Another who figures to attract money is A.P. Adventure, a beautifully bred daughter of A.P. Indy. Trained by Wally Dollase, A.P. Adventure romped against maidens going a mile Oct. 30, earning an 86 Beyer. The win proved she not only handles this track but also relishes a route.

Dollase resisted the temptation to bring A.P. Adventure back against the big girls in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. That patience may reap dividends, not only in the short term, but in the long run, as well.

With so many fillies in this race who have so much to prove, you don't want to swallow a short price. That leaves a horse like Stellar Jayne as an attractive alternative. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, Stellar Jayne rallied from well back to win the one-mile Pocahontas at Churchill on Nov. 1. She got some help that day when second favorite Sweet Jo Jo broke down nearing the wire while still on the lead.

Stellar Jayne came back in the Grade 2 Golden Rod in late November, but, hampered by a miserable post (11) and tough trip, she finished eighth. She's certainly capable of better, and with a smaller field here, she should be able to avoid traffic woes. Considering she's a proven router and a proven stakes horse, she figures to be quite attractive at what are likely overlaid odds of 5-1 or so.

The right 'Man' for the job

As a 3-year-old in 2001, Proud Man had a sensational season, particularly after he was moved to turf. Things didn't go nearly as well in 2002, but he appeared to find himself again last season. A carryover of his 2003 form can put Proud Man in the winner's circle in Sunday's Grade 3 Appleton Handicap at a mile on the turf at Gulfstream Park.

Trainer Christophe Clement sees this as a major race for Proud Man, and a good performance here can send Proud Man into the Jan. 24 Sunshine Millions and a shot at some big money.

"This race is very important, and you cannot look past it," said Clement. "He's doing as well as we could expect, and so if he does run like we expect, then we will know for sure about the Sunshine Millions."

A 5-year-old son of Manlove, Proud Man won the 2001 Grade 3 Palm Beach, the only time he set foot on the Gulfstream turf course. Clement says he believes Proud Man's best game may be as a one-turn miler, but his affinity for the Gulfstream course alleviates any concerns about this two-turn mile contest.

"This distance suits him very well," said Clement. "You can't get too many opportunities to race at his best distance, but this one is close. I think he should get a better pace scenario than in his last two races."

It also figures to help that Proud Man likely doesn't have to face any monsters in this spot.

Another promising youngster

Add the name Borrego to your list of possible Derby horses. Trained by Beau Greely, Borrego tried dirt for the first time in an optional claimer at Santa Anita last Saturday, made a dazzling move inside, pitched out and swooped to the lead, and cleared off for the handy win. Not only did he easily defeat the promising Dwango, but did so with a move you don't see every day. And in a year where there are more questions than answers in the 3-year-old picture, Borrego certainly merits a look.

Borrego's 91 Beyer was solid and kept him on an upward trend. He's expected to hook BC Juvenile champ Action This Day in the Grade 2 Santa Catalina at 1 1/16 miles at Santa Anita on Jan. 17. Borrego is by El Prado (same sire as Medaglia d'Oro) out of a Strike the Gold mare, so he should be comfortable as the distances add up.